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Guest Post: Pumping on Campus

Today’s post is from recent PhD-graduate Andrea Beverley–her post really struck a chord with me, because when I came back to work five months after my daughter was born, I was pumping breastmilk several times a day at work, for about 6 or 7 months: my main problem was teaching a three hour grad seminar in a far-flung building, and having to pump during the 15 minute class break. Mostly, I had the incalculable luxury of a private office, but I can tell you, it’s really never easy to bring this sort of routine into your worklife.

Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing this story with us. And congratulations on your degree!


The first time that I brought my breast pump to school, I had a vague, naïve impression that I would find some kind of cozy, private den in which to extract my breast milk. Reality hit when I spent the better part of my lunch break searching for a spot to pump. The single-person washroom was locked with a sign on the door stating that I needed to apply to the Disabled Students Bureau for a key. I figured I’d set up in a stall in the larger bathroom, but to my dismay, there were no electrical outlets for my electric pump. I wandered over to the library and consulted a librarian at the information desk. She suggested the medical clinic or the nurses’ station (both necessitating a trek to the other side of campus, not to mention the allusion to the medicalisation of maternity, which is a whole other post!). She then offered to reserve one of the library’s group study rooms for me for a 15-minute period. It had an electrical outlet and a door, but a little window beside the door meant that anyone walking by could glance in. Nonetheless, I decided that this was my best option. I hunkered down on the floor with my back against the door as far as possible from the window and tried to visualize my suckling baby so that my milk would let down in this awkward, less-than-ideal spot.

Over the following months, I developed an efficient pumping routine. I bought batteries so that I wouldn’t need an outlet, and I pumped in a washroom stall while balancing on the toilet. I was very self-conscious about the mechanical noises that the pump made, so I tried to muffle it by wrapping the mechanical part of the pump in a sweater and leaving it in my backpack with only the cord protruding. I wasn’t ashamed of pumping my milk, but I did worry that people would hear the noise, have no idea what it was or a decidedly wrong idea about what it was, and find it laughable or bizarre. I’m still not sure why this bothered me so much. Recently, in one of the washrooms that I had so often used as my pumping station, I heard those familiar sounds emanating from one of the stalls and felt an incredible sense of kinship with that pumping mama!

 In recent years, a number of American campuses have created lactation rooms for nursing mothers and recent health care reform in the U.S. now requires employers to provide “a private, non-bathroom place” to express breast milk. While breastfeeding is considered a human right in Canada and workplaces are expected to accommodate nursing mothers, I couldn’t find much on-line evidence of Canadian campuses designating space for pumping, although the University of Toronto’s Family Care Office offers an list of “private, quiet and comfortable places” around campus where mothers can breastfeed or pump. Do any other campuses address this issue? I would have used a lactation room for sure, had it been conveniently located. But honestly, beyond my own experience, I’m not sure how much demand there would be for such a space, which testifies to the solitude that I experienced in my pumping adventures. I don’t know anyone else who went through the same situation. Profs can use their offices, and students coming to campus for short classes wouldn’t necessarily need to pump during that time. But I was a doctoral student working long days at my (shared) desk space. So this blog post is in part to ask: anyone else have campus breast milk anecdotes to share?

 Andrea Beverley

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Pumping on Campus

  1. I was back in the classroom, teaching full-time five weeks after my son was born. I had my pump in a “discreet” backpack that I would lug with me in between classes into the larger stall, sit on the floor, and pump. I didn't have a private office (we had an open floor plan type thing going). It wasn't ideal, but I made it work.

    I miss year-long maternity leaves in Canada.


  2. I personally could not pump in a public bathroom as I am a total germaphobe. I had a cubicle, but when I first came back to work a senior colleague was kind enough to lend me her space when needed.

    Towards the end of my 7 month pumping at work run I got so bold that I would pump at my cubby covered only by a blanket. The look on people's faces when they popped over to speak with me was priceless! One drawback was that I would sometimes get so engrossed in my work that the bottle would fill and overflow (I had oversupply). I also obnoxiously labelled my cooler bag HUMAN MILK DO NOT OPEN as people have a habit of stealing food from our communal fridge.

    The worst was a faculty workshop leader who told me that they would do their best to “accomodate my special need” to pump twice during an 8 hour session, as if lactating were a disability! I was so close to reporting them to the Equity office.

    Best spaces to pump: family rooms in some Montreal malls that have a glider and a change table. Discovered this on a conference trip and thought, why can't my university do this?


  3. Oh, Becky, I LOVE YOUR COMMENT. I am kind of in your camp: I don't know if it was the lactation hormones, or what, but I was bold bold bold about everything. I would breastfeed anywhere, anytime, and the blanket could go to hell because I had serious oversupply and my kid was a messy eater. It was safer for everyone …

    I LOVE your shamelessness: that you treat other people's shock and consternation as what it is, THEIR shock and consternation, not YOUR problem. Cause it ain't. LOVE IT.

    Lee, I had that 'backpack' too, and it was so discreet sometimes people would ask me where I got it, so they could get one too. Less discreet to have to say, “err, actually, it's just disguising the human milking machine …” Ha!


  4. I'm a 2nd-year doc student and went to classes four days after my daughter (2nd child) was born 8 months ago. Obviously, I was pumping a lot at the beginning, trying to establish a stash and keep up with her increasing appetite. I pumped in the bathroom a few times but finally found a shower stall in the downstairs bathroom with a bench and a locking door. The only down side is that there's a few of us pumping (with four women due in Jan/Feb), so one spot is not enough. It definitely doesn't seem like it'd be that hard to find a dedicated space, but the US doesn't have a history of being good about it. Hope I can gain some boldness before it's time to wean!


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